Many feminist column inches have been dedicated to the subject of “toxic masculinity” of late. The radical idea that centuries-old societal norms around manliness might just play a part in issues such as misogyny, homophobia and violence is finally catching on. Axe – Lynx if you’re in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand & China - have had a role in defining masculinity since the ‘80s, but in recent years they’ve been taking that responsibility seriously. Now they’re taking their battle to the high streets. 72andSunny Amsterdam teamed up with UNIT9 London to build an interactive pop-up store in Dublin, where visitors can use technology to experiment with their look and find their individual style.
The centrepiece of the experience is a state-of-the-art augmented reality mirror that, like a really smart Snapchat filter, lets guys virtually ‘try on’ six of Ireland’s most searched-for hairstyles. His curiosity piqued, LBB’s Alex Reeves asked 72andSunny Amsterdam’s Matt Heck what was behind the magic.
LBB> Did the idea for an augmented reality experience come from Axe, or were they just interested in some kind of experiential campaign?
MH> Our brand partner Axe / Lynx was interested in developing a Pop Up Experience that gave guys the opportunity to get to know the brand better. Creatively we had a lot of freedom to explore how to approach this.
LBB> Why did you decide Dublin was the right place for this experience?
MH> You could say Dublin was in the right place at the right time. We had just finished developing the concept with the Global Unilever team, and Dublin was immediately interested to kick it off. It’s now been open a week and the shop is already attracting a wide range of interesting and diverse visitors. If successful, the experience is intended to be replicated in other markets all around the world. Stay tuned for tour dates.
LBB> You're an Amsterdam agency, worked with UNIT9 and Ink Associates from London, and built the installation in Dublin. How did you assemble these international partners and how did the project work?
MH> We are located in Amsterdam, but we have clients and partners all over the world. We just completed the production of a big campaign to launch Lynx’s Face Care range in China. And in the last couple years we’ve worked in places such as Nigeria, Russia and South Korea. So this is not out of the ordinary for us.
For this project we worked with the Global Lynx team in London in partnership with their local team in Dublin. 72andSunny Amsterdam fleshed out the concept, experience, design and the team even got their hands dirty onsite before the launch. GRO is Unilever’s Global Retail Operations arm who was responsible for project managing the build and they commissioned INK as the local build company. It’s like having your mates over to help you paint your house, but Unilever just has much more qualified mates. One of the benefits of working with Unilever.
LBB> What was the initial idea and how did it evolve?
MH> The initial concept was focused on our ‘Instagroom’ platform. Research shows that 55% of guys haven’t changed their hair in more than a year. Data also shows that lots of guys are going online asking how to do certain hairstyles. The ‘Instagroom’ platform provides quick video tutorials for the most commonly searched queries. The store was originally intended to be a “Hall of Mirrors” that allowed viewers to walk around and “try on” the top ranked hairstyles via Magic Mirrors while learning about Lynx’s grooming range.
But throughout the process, together with Lynx, we decided to make the Magic Mirror one feature in a store that shows the broader picture of Lynx as a brand. Visitors can now experience the whole grooming range, the shop is hosting events to discuss Toxic Masculinity and encourage guys to be the best version of themselves. The store is really a physical representation of the brand and ultimately serves to encourage guys to ‘Find Your Magic’ physically and emotionally.
LBB> The project is powered by data from Google. How did you get access to that?
MH> We Googled it. Google gives public access to the most popular trends online. The data is geo-targeted but non-specific to any individuals. This research gave us the trends on what people are asking online so we could map all male grooming related searches to know what guys were looking for when it comes to their style. 72andSunny is a partner of Google and we also have a close relationship with Google Zoo. These relationships really help when trying to navigate search data.
LBB> There must be a lot of tech in that mirror, what's in there making it tick and where are you hiding it all?
MH> The Magic Mirror is an augmented reality experience which lets users “try on” different hairstyles in a variety of colours. The experience was developed in Unity game engine to render the hair in real time. The mirror’s facial targeting and tracking system smoothly augments the hairstyles onto the user’s head, allowing them freedom of movement to explore the hairstyles from different angles.
The experience is guided by a barber / Lynx ambassador who operates a bespoke tablet application. Along the way, the ambassador captures the user’s favourite looks to a custom website which the user can access via a unique URL and share the pictures to their social channels.
As to where the kit is hidden, magicians don’t reveal their tricks. Luckily, we’re just creative folks, so we’ll say all the hardware is cleverly hidden in the false wall, and the mirror frame simply reveals a circular section of a standard 49” mirrored display.
LBB> Getting augmented reality to work smoothly can’t be easy. What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
MH> So many challenges. Rendering hair in real-time is extremely tricky. What you see in films is pre-rendered. Games are real-time, but have much more extensive engines, modelling, and lighting environments. We worked with a Unilever hair consultant and artists at UNIT9 to push the hair models and textures. But in the end, it was balancing the physical lighting, CG lighting, and screen output to maximise tracking and the augmentation appearance.
LBB> How did people react when you first unveiled the experience? Did anything surprise you?
MH> For the people that are aware of ‘Find Your Magic’, they seem to really enjoy what the store has to offer. We have a 4D sound shower installation, cheeky hidden messages all around the shop, a personalised limited edition Daily Fragrance station, the Magic Mirror and lots of other little surprises.
For those that still think Lynx is just a body spray brand, the experience is much more eye opening. We’re really excited for this audience to understand what the brand has become and attend some of the events so they can understand the full picture and how Lynx is fighting against Toxic Masculinity.
LBB> It's not hard to imagine a future where hair salons use similar technology all over the place. Do you think that's possible anytime soon?
MH> We haven’t built the Magic Mirror as a one-off, but treated it as the first prototype. The Mirror currently in Dublin is intended to be used elsewhere after the shop closes in August. And we’ve approached the build so it can be replicated across markets with room for improvement. Maybe the Hall of Mirrors will even open one day.